As a medical student, you will need a fast and reliable laptop that you are comfortable using for extended periods of time. Here we outline considerations that may help inform your search and describe the devices that are arguably the five best laptops for medical students attending medical school in the United States. Our team may earn a small commission from qualifying purchases made through the below links at no additional cost to you.
We believe that the five best laptops for medical students in 2021 are:
- Apple Macbook Air
- HP Pavilion x360 (Two-in-One)
- ASUS Vivobook S Ultra Thin
- ASUS Zenbook 14
- Acer Aspire 5 (Budget Laptop)
Which factors should influence your decision-making?
Why use a laptop? Laptop vs. Desktop vs. Tablet: For medical students in this day and age, it is almost necessary to have a portable computer. In-person activities, communication, and even taking exams depends on the use of these modern devices.
Some medical schools, such as that at the University of Virginia, require that their students have a laptop. Laptops can be transported easily from home to the library to the clinic; desktops cannot. If you had to pick between the two, the laptop should win without contest.
Due to its reduced size and weight, a tablet can be especially useful as it is easy to transport to lecture and the clinic, convenient for reviewing digital flashcards, and relatively less expensive than a laptop or desktop. However, a tablet cannot serve as a replacement for a computer. While the features of a tablet can be recreated by some laptops (or even cell phones), the converse is not true.
Find out whether your institution will provide you with a laptop, desktop, or tablet free-of-charge or as a component of your tuition before buying one yourself.
Macintosh vs. Windows: In general, it shouldn’t matter whether you have a mac or windows computer. Make certain that your computer will be compatible with the software used by your institution. For example, some versions of OS may not work with the exam software of certain medical schools.
Storage, RAM, and CPU: You will likely install a number of software programs that (1) are required by your medical school, such as exam-taking software, (2) that help you to organize and keep track of your time, notes, responsibilities, and personal life (3) and that are directly relevant to your studies, such as digital flashcards (e.g. Anki). The amount of space and resources that these programs use should influence your decision-making.
Storage: You will want a computer that runs quickly and smoothly. To this end, buy a laptop with a solid state drive (SSD) instead of a hard disk drive (HDD). You are unlikely to need more than 128 gigabytes of storage memory. If you prefer to store copies of all of your lectures, notes, review videos, and study materials on your personal computer instead of in the cloud, then you may need extra, though this is not likely to be the case. Numerous PDF files are not likely to warrant a need for extra memory. Upgrading the memory can add considerable expense.
RAM: Unless you prefer to keep 10 software programs open simultaneously (e.g. internet, iTunes, Microsoft Word, Microsoft Powerpoint, video software, virtual histology slides, and more), for general internet browsing and study-related use, you should not need more than 4 gigabytes of RAM. Otherwise, go for 8 gigabytes. If, for example, you play computer games on the side, then you might need extra RAM.
CPU: In general, don’t worry about the processor type, as most any should suffice as long as it is no more than 3 years old. If you are purchasing a laptop with an intel processor, consider going for an i3 or i5 instead of an i7. While faster, the i7 is more expensive, generates more heat, and drains the battery more quickly. Between lecture, the library, and the clinic, you will want a laptop that can last quite some time without needing to be charged.
Screen Type and Resolution: Find out whether you prefer a touch screen or not, and whether or not you would like a two-in-one laptop that can also double as a tablet. Some students like to directly annotate lecture slides and the touch screen/tablet features can be useful to this end. Due to their versatility, two-in-one laptops are one of the best types of laptop available to medical students.
Find a laptop that you are comfortable looking at for extended periods of time. While a matte display can be viewed more easily in bright light and perhaps reduce eye strain, it lacks the vivid colors and contrast of a glossy display.
For now, don’t worry about blue light (which you would want to avoid with late-night studying) as this can often be regulated using software that you install after purchasing your computer.
A high resolution screen (e.g. 1080p) will be helpful for reviewing images (e.g. digital histology photomicrographs) at a sufficient level of detail. Consider that a 1080p screen should appear over twice as sharp as a 720p screen. Avoid a resolution of less than 900p. In general, retina displays (etc) are superfluous and should not influence your decision-making.
If you would prefer a screen greater than 15 inches in diameter, consider purchasing an external monitor such as Acer’s 21.5-inch Full HD Monitor.
Accessories: Most laptops will have a built-in microphone, video camera, and speakers.
Consider investing in an external hard drive with at least 1 terabyte of memory. You will be glad to have backed up essential data on the drive if your laptop is lost or fails. To this end the WD 1 Terabyte Elements Portable External Hard Drive could work.
You will need headphones or earbuds and a microphone for video conferencing with your mentors and peers. Comfortable, wireless, noise-cancelling headphones, such as the Bose Quietcomfort or earbuds, such as the Apple Airpods, could work well.
Some medical students prefer to print lecture slides for studying, research manuscripts when drafting reports, etc. You may find having a printer at home to be useful. To this end consider the HP Envy Wireless All-in-One printer.
Weight: Avoid purchasing a heavy or bulky laptop. You will want a computer that is lightweight and easy to transport between your home and medical school. When carrying your laptop from home to lecture each day, you will be glad to have chosen the lighter option.
Cost: Try to balance quality and cost. As a medical student, you are likely to be taking on significant debt due to the expenses of medical school. Avoid spending more than necessary on a laptop but keep in mind that it should be viewed as an investment that may last you all four years and beyond into residency.
The five best laptops for medical students:
|Storage, CPU||256 GB (or 512 GB) SSD Storage, M1 Chip|
|Display||13.3-inch LED-backlit Retina display, 1600p resolution|
|Weight||2.8 pounds (1.27 kilograms)|
|Battery Life||up to 15 hours|
|Features||HD camera with advanced image signal processor, Fanless design, secured with fingerprint sensor|
Pros: The Macbook Air is thin and lightweight, “blazing” fast, durable, and has an extended battery life. Check out the reviews on Amazon. If you charge it fully, the laptop will last all day. It is one of the best laptops for medical students and should cover most all of your needs. If you attend medical school in the United States, you are likely to find that many of your peers use a Macbook Air (or a Macbook Pro).
Cons: The laptop lacks a CD drive, which some users prefer, and the OS operating system could pose an issue. Some medical schools use exam software that may not compatible with certain versions of OS (but even if this is the case, there are workarounds such as Bootcamp). If you are looking to hook up more than one external monitor to your laptop, consider that the M1 chip can only accommodate one (though this is not unusual for a laptop). The M1 chip may also have compatibility issues with certain software. The web camera is arguably of a sub-par quality and some owners may not like the keyboard.
Check out reviews and the current price of the Macbook Air on Amazon. While we have linked to the most recent version (at the time of this writing), older versions may work just as well (and save you some money).
2. HP Pavilion x360 (Two-in-One)
|Storage, CPU||256 GB (or 512 GB) SSD Storage, Intel processor (i3, i5, i7)|
|Display||14-inch display, 1080p resolution|
|Weight||3.55 pounds (1.61 kilograms)|
|Battery Life||up to 13.75 hours|
|Features||Touch screen, Two-in-One (can transform into a tablet)|
Pros: Though the HP Pavilion x360 is slightly heavier than the Macbook Air, it is not bulky and has an alternative feature that adds a lot of value: its ability to serve as a two-in-one laptop (a laptop that can transform into a tablet). As a result, the HP Pavilion x360 is both a laptop and a giant tablet (14 inches in diameter). A responsive touch screen (with good color balance, contrast, and brightness) and ability to rotate 360 degrees make this laptop useful for hand-writing digital notes and more. The hardware of the laptop is of a high quality and it has “snappy performance” – it boots in 3 seconds (note: this is from personal experience. It’s the laptop that I own and use as a medical student.) The onboard speakers sound nice and the track pad works well.
Cons: The screen is glossy. This means that, while it provides enhanced visuals, it can be difficult to view in bright light such as direct sunlight. If you prefer to study outside, consider investing in a glare screen protector.
Collectively the HP Pavilion x360 is arguably one of the best laptops for medical school. Check out reviews and the current price of the HP Pavilion x360 on Amazon.
|Storage, CPU||512 GB SSD Storage, AMD processor|
|Display||15.6-inch LED-backlit anti-glare LCD display, 1080p resolution|
|Weight||3.30 pounds (1.50 kilograms)|
|Battery Life||up to 8 hours|
|Features||HD webcam, SonicMaster stereo speakers, 802.11ac wireless connection, fingerprint login security|
Pros: A thin and lightweight design, high quality processor, and extensive internal storage at a balanced price make the Asus Vivobook S one of the best laptops for medical students. Most software should run “super” quickly and you will appreciate the fast and scalable internet connection offered by the 802.11ac wireless capability. The laptop has an attractive screen: the frameless four-edged NanoEdge display which is bright enough for use outdoors.
Cons: Some owners find that the laptop’s audio system has a poor quality and that the speakers produce sound at a lackluster volume (though this can be a non-issue if you use external speakers or headphones). In addition, the battery life could be improved (some buyers note that it does not last 8 hours). The touch pad has been described as “cheap plastic, but … large, clicky and responsive, with a fingerprint scanner that is quick.”
Check out reviews and the current price of the Asus Vivobook S on Amazon.
|Storage, CPU||512 GB SSD Storage, Intel processor (i3, i5, i7)|
|Display||14-inch HD display, 1080p resolution|
|Weight||2.64 pounds (1.20 kilograms)|
|Battery Life||up to 9.5 hours|
|Features||secured with fingerprint sensor, surround-sound onboard audio, Ergolift hinge, backlit keyboard|
Pros: The ASUS Zenbook 14 is lightweight, durable, and fast. Lots of storage (512 GB), a cutting edge intel processor (8th generation 4-Core i5), and a sleek design make the Zenbook ideal for anyone looking for a state-of-the-art PC laptop. It has a “comfortable” keyboard (which would be appreciated during extended use) and its reasonable size should make it easy to transport the laptop between home and lectures.
Cons: Primarily the cost- the laptop is more expensive than many other PC laptops. It has a considerably lower battery life than the Macbook Air. The display is not a touchscreen (though most laptops do not have a touchscreen display, so this is not unusual). The trackpad has been described as “glitchy.”
Check out reviews and the current price of the Asus Zenbook 14 on Amazon.
5. Acer Aspire 5 (Budget Laptop)
|Storage, CPU||128 GB SSD Storage, AMD Ryzen 3 processor|
|Display||15.6-inch HD display, 1080p resolution|
|Weight||4.19 pounds (1.90 kilograms)|
|Battery Life||up to 7.5 hours|
|Features||backlit keyboard, innovative TrueHarmony speaker design|
Pros: Acer’s Aspire 5 is arguably the most budget-friendly laptops for medical students (and therefore one of the best). It offers a quality 15.6 inch display, SSD hard drive, and fast AMD processor (that is slightly superior to the intel i3) at an accessible price. In addition, the storage and RAM can be upgraded to render, at a lower cost, a laptop that rivals its more expensive competitors.
Cons: The reduced cost of this laptop comes at the expense of a slightly heavier weight (about 1 pound more than average) and lower build quality (plastic instead of aluminum case). The laptop has Microsoft 10S software, which requires that you use apps from the Microsoft app store (but can be avoided by upgrading to Microsoft 10 for a considerable fee).
Check out reviews and the current price of the Acer Aspire 5 on Amazon.
Keep in mind that there are a great variety of laptops available on the market. It is possible that computers not addressed in this article will better satisfy your needs. We encourage you to discuss your search with individuals at your medical school.
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